Sunday, December 16, 2007

Devil's Sermon: Hamara Finance Minister ko Kyun Gussa Aatha Hai?

The Comrades Are Once Again at the Neck of the Bourgeois Press

Media has always been the favourite whipping boy for our comrades in Kerala. Whenever uncomfortable questions are raised, whenever someone in the high levels of the proletarian party is caught with his pants down, like our comrade Jayarajan whose acceptance of Rs. 2 crore from a lottery don made news, they come down like a ton of bricks on the media.

The latest to enter the arena challenging the media is Dr T M Thomas Isaac, our finance minister, who is normally a soft-spoken and mild mannered person. Not any longer. The amiable doctor is now a fierce tiger and he takes the media to task for the way they try to teach him a lesson or two on the business of economics and tax collection. He tells the media not to try teaching him too much.

That, I feel, is a clear indication that our ministers and those in power are losing their temper. And why do they lose their temper, especially with the media? In the case of the finance minister, there has been criticism that the tax collection has fallen short, the tall claims did not materialize and that his department is widely seen as a dog in manger, holding up the work of many other ministries.

And heavy guns are now in the field happily firing at the finance minister. It was none other than Veliyam Bhargavan, veteran CPI leader, who shot poison arrows at the finance minister the other day. He was angry that the finance department refused money for a pet programme of the agriculture minister, his nominee in the government. But, they say, money has been flowing to others from the CPM, like S Sarma of the fisheries.

No wonder Veliyam is angry. CPI’s Ratnakaran does not get any money for his peasants’ insurance, but S Sarma who runs fisheries, gets it for his fishermen insurance project. That shows the finance minister is no political novice, he knows from where the barbs will come in the next party conference and he is playing a game in anticipation of the fireworks at the Kottayam conference coming early next year.

But who is to blame for the present situation? Bhargavan, Ratnakaran or the finance minister himself? It is evident that when you are in a united front, you have to compromise and accept the views of the lesser people. The finance minister failed to listen to their grumblings and now all the snakes are out, and let us watch the game as it unfolds…

When dealing with media I think the Kerala comrades should learn a few lessons from their bosses in Delhi. Look at the way Karat and Yechuri deal with the national media there. They do not get angry, they do not call them names and they do not even find any syndicate among the media-persons who descend on the AKG Bhavan, to question, to find fault and to criticize. The comrades in Delhi know the game and they play it well too.

Look at the past elections, there is a great lesson too.

The finance minister's party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), had reversed its decision on candidates and political alliance taken at the state committee, central committee and the politburo, after a public outcry expressed through the media. That was a breakthrough development because in no past elections the party had taken such a step and buckled under media pressure. In Kerala this time, the party openly admitted that they had to accept changes owing to media pressure.

Remember the sequence of events: The State committee of the party decided upon a political alliance with the DIC led by K Karunakaran. But after discussion in the politburo, the decision was revoked. One of the reasons cited was that the media in Kerala was extremely influential and could rake up uncomfortable issues like the role of Karunakaran in the emergency period. The CPM national leadership was not willing to fight an election in the company of Karunakaran because it felt it would be a disaster.

The party’s national congress in Delhi, held in May 2005, in its political and organizational report, had even made references to the extremely volatile nature of the electorate in Kerala and the influence of media in shaping public discourse. It had also referred to the efforts made by the party to counter this bourgeois media influence by launching its own media organizations including a twenty-four hour television channel. The results were, however, not very encouraging, the report felt.

Now back to the elections: the CPM state leadership had come to the decision that V S Achuthanandan would not contest. After the state committee decided on the list of candidates the matter went to the national leadership where it was decided that V S Achuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan would not contest. The party general secretary Prakash Karat officially announced that the PB had decided that both Acthuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan are not contesting. But the announcement had a tremendous impact on the rank and file and for the first time in the party history the cadres came out into the streets in open defiance, raising slogans against the leadership.

Pinarayi accused the media of playing politics. He said they had no ethics, knew nothing about the Communist Party and they were even accused of engineering demonstrations like the one in front of the AKG Center.

But then what happened? General secretary Prakash Karat agreed that there was wide resentment in the rank and file. Then came the anti-climax. The PB met once again in Delhi, discussed the situation in Kerala and Prakash Karat announced that Achuthanandan would contest the poll. Eventually he became the chief minister too.

That is history. Now the party conferences are once again on, the battles within and without are raging, and the leaders are once again in the habit of media bashing. But before striking at the bourgeois press, comrades, just consider the past experiences and see whether you can manage your affairs without dragging the media in.

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